The hat appears in a winter scene in Stop/Eject, as Kate (played by Georgina Sherrington of The Worst Witch fame) enters the mysterious charity shop on a cold December day to once again use the time-travelling tape recorder. Behind-the-scenes footage of Georgie wearing the hat can be seen in this podcast from day two of the shoot:
“I had discussed colours with Neil,” explains Katie Lake, Stop/Eject’s costume designer, “and we liked the idea of yellow and blue for Kate – more yellow when she was happy, and more blue when she was sad. For the winter scene, as it was set in the darkest days of Kate’s emotional journey, I knew I needed to dress her in dark or drab colors. I had chosen a navy dress, but wanted to avoid making her look like she was dressed for a funeral, so when I found an off-white coat, I knew a light or medium grey hat would be perfect. The lighter colours wash out pale skin, like Georgie has, making her look even more drab and depressed.”
The hat was handmade especially for the production by Kerryblueknits, a New England-based crafter. “I have knit many a custom hat, but this was my first for a film,” says Kerry. “It was really exciting! Katie wanted a small hat, in light or medium grey, and something that an artsy person would have. At first she was thinking something slouchy, but that can be hard for petite women to pull off. We decided in the end on this beautiful lacy pattern – something that a young professional might have gone for, but in a subtle color.”
Kerry knitted the hat with an 85% wool/15% alpaca yarn. It is a size small and should be hand-washed and lain flat to dry.
* Shipping/postage will be charged at £2 (UK) or £4 (rest of world) on top. The winning bidder will be instructed how to pay via the Stop/Eject website. If he/she doesn’t pay within 48 hours of the auction ending, the hat will be offered to the next highest bidder. Bids received after the closing time will not count. Direct message the Stop/Eject Facebook page to bid anonymously.
Last year I was contacted by scriptwriter, author and SFX Magazine contributor MJ Simpson, who was writing a book called Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008. Although I describe my 2005 feature Soul Searcher as a fantasy-action movie, it does have some elements in common with the horror genre, most notably the character of the Grim Reaper, and so Mike was keen to give it a mention in his book.
Urban Terrors is released this Saturday, December 1st, and can be bought online or on the highstreet from The Cinema Store and Forbidden Planet. Order before Saturday to get it at the discounted price of £15.25 (normally £17.95).
By the late 1990s, the Golden Age of British Horror Cinema was long gone. But like all the best monsters, the genre has risen from the grave and in the 21st century is going from strength to strength.
Developments in video technology and changes in distribution have seen a ten-fold increase in the number of British horror films made and released each year. From major studio pictures like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead to cult indies like Freak Out and The Last Horror Movie, the new millennium is a boom time for home-grown horror. And many of these new films are contemporary, socially-relevant tales reflecting life in modern Britain; instead of creepy castles, their monsters and psychos stalk housing estates and tower blocks…
Urban Terrors is the first book to fully examine the British horror film revival, documenting and analysing the more than 100 movies that were commercially released between 1997 and 2008. It reveals how the changes in technology have enabled more people to make films, how changes in distribution – from VHS to DVD to VOD – are enabling more people to watch them, and how the mainstream media has failed to spot and comment upon this largely-undocumented phenomenon. And it examines how these new kinds of horror films have dealt with issues like disenfranchised youth, class division and social exclusion…
‘One of the UK’s foremost horror critics – what Mike Simpson doesn’t know about horror is not worth knowing.’ –film director Johannes Roberts
In this week’s FilmWorks masterclass one of the speakers mentioned a filmmaker whose work was the subject of repeated YouTube mash-ups. She was faced with a choice: invoke her rights and request YouTube take them down, or embrace these creative responses and re-interpretations of her work. She chose the latter, engaging with the mashers(?) and nurturing her fan community.
Following the DVD release of my 2005 feature film Soul Searcher, I became aware of numerous pirate copies floating about on the internet. My feelings were mixed. On the one hand, given the years of my life and the thousands of pounds I’d put into making the film, I was furious that people were ripping it off. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be flattered that people had thought it worth pirating. One Russian pirate (arrrrrsky!) had even gone to the trouble of dubbing it into his language, albeit doing all the voices himself without any attempt to differentiate them or act in any way.
Having spent the last year crowd-funding Stop/Eject, I am all too aware of the importance of posting free content online – like this blog, or Stop/Eject’s behind-the-scenes videos – in order to promote myself and my current projects. But promote myself to what end? Like many filmmakers, my ultimate goal is to make feature films for a living, but how can I or anyone else make a living in a world where almost all media content ever produced can be obtained, free of charge, at the click of a mouse? In the last few years I’ve already witnessed the specific type of filmmaking it’s always been my dream to work in – the kind where movies are shot on real sets with real actors on real celluloid and exhibited on real celluloid – start to disappear. But is the industry as a whole doomed to oblivion by piracy?
Maybe not. Perhaps crowd-funding demonstrates a glimmer of hope. Even though some people would rather pirate Hollywood blockbusters than pay for them, some other people will pay for independent films that haven’t even been made yet. How can we account for this dichomoty? Community engagement. Sponsors of a crowd-funded film feel part of the project in a way that they never could with the latest Tom Cruise juggernaut. Perhaps if I could have talked to that Russian pirate (arrrsky! That will never get old.) while Soul Searcher was still in production I could have involved him in the project, making him the official translator or the online publicist for Asia or something. Co-operation rather than competition. Perhaps that is the way forward.
I’ll leave you with some highlights from the Russian bootleg of Soul Searcher.
When I first started making amateur films with my grandad’s Video8 camcorder, the only “actors” I had available were me, my friend David Abbott and occasionally my sister. Even a little later on, when I managed to rope in a few extra friends, there were still far more characters than actors. The solution? Each person – with the addition or subtraction of a hat, jacket or pair of glasses – portrayed multiple characters.
While this massively confused the audience (which fortunately consisted of only my parents), it did teach me a thing or two about how to shoot scenes in which one actor plays two characters. Below is a run-down of the various techniques you can use next time you shoot a script featuring time travel, parallel universes or uncanny doppelgängers. Back in the nineties, when I was making amateur films, there was no way of combining two separate video images on screen at once (without a hugely expensive video mixer), so only the first two of these techniques were available to me. Nowadays they can all be done with a green sheet, a decent home computer and the right software.
1. Ordinary cuts
The simplest method is to block your shot so that one doppelgänger’s face is not seen, be it out of focus, turned away from camera, in shadow or whatever. Simply dress a stand-in in the right clothes and make sure their hair matches. Two over-the-shoulder shots, each with a stand-in providing the foreground shoulder, can be edited into a very natural conversation.
2. Hidden cuts
It’s possible to pan from one doppelgänger to another, without any post-production effects, so long as the pan is very fast – a “whip” pan. There is so much motion in a whip pan that the eye will not detect a cut in the middle of it. Alternatively, track the camera so it passes close behind a foreground object or character; use the moment of darkness as this object wipes frame to hide a cut.
3. Split screen
As long as your camera is locked off, it’s the work of seconds in post to create a simple split screen effect using your editing software’s crop tool. If a straight vertical line doesn’t suit your shot, more unusual matte lines can be created with a garbage matte filter. Watch out for changes in lighting when you shoot the two elements, particularly when filming outdoors, and beware of shadows crossing the matte line. If you can afford to hire a motion control rig for accurately repeatable moves, your camera doesn’t even need to be locked down.
4. Green screen
If you try to use technique 3 for a shot where one doppelgänger passes in front of the other, you’ll quickly find it a post-production nightmare of painstaking matte animation. Instead, shoot the foreground doppelgänger against a green screen. As always with green screen work, light carefully to reduce spill and match the background plate.
5. Face replacement
This is the only suitable technique when your doppelgängers are in close physical contact and both faces are visible. The action is performed by the actor and a stand-in, who may wear a green hood with tracking marks on it. Later, the actor performs the second character against a green screen, wearing a green body suit, with the angle and lighting carefully matched to the earlier shot. This isolated face, or the entire head, can then be tracked onto the stand-in. (Alternatively, on a big budget, the actor’s head may be cyber-scanned and a CG version of it tracked onto the stand-in.) Beware that only experienced VFX artists will be able to pull this off convincingly.
The best approach is to mix as many techniques as possible, relying mostly on the simpler ones but hitting the audience with a more effectsy one every now and then to sell the doubles. Happy sci-fi shooting!
Although Stop/Eject is still a long way off being finished, we’ve started to give some thought to the press kit. I remember being in the last week or so of Soul Searcher’s sound mix, Neil Douek and I desperately trying to get the film finished in time for the premiere, and at the same time I was having to deal with designing the press kits and getting them printed. That’s why I’m keen to start early this time around. Speaking of Soul Searcher’s press kit, I’m posting it below so if you’re wondering what a press kit should have in it, wonder no more. Click the images for larger, legible versions. I have Chris Jones and his Guerilla Filmmakers’ Movie Blueprint to thank for knowing what to put in it.
Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon, and so on and so forth.
This week’s FilmWorks session was called “How to Succeed at Not Doing Everything” – i.e. how to collaborate. This session really chimed with me. Like many low budget filmmakers, I suspect, I can be something of a control freak and have only recently been letting go of certain key roles within my productions.
On my 2002 action movie The Beacon I was writer, director, producer, director of photography, camera operator, focus puller, editor, visual effects artist, sound designer, sound mixer and colourist. Since then I’ve been gradually letting go of roles and almost without exception the results have been good. Giving someone a job to do and getting results that exceed my expectations is one of the most enjoyable aspects of filmmaking for me now. Neil Douek’s sound mix of Soul Searcher was light years beyond my efforts on The Beacon, and on The Dark Side of the Earth when I turned over both sound design and mixing to Henning Knoepfel, I was rewarded with a soundtrack beyond anything I could have imagined.
The roles I’ve clung onto the longest are (co-)writing, (co-)producing, DPing and editing. The writing and producing are down to the necessities of unpaid filmmaking; I’ve always hated both of these roles. I kid myself that the same is true of DPing, but it’s probably more due to an over-inflated opinion of my own abilities. Yes, I’m fairly certain that I’m a better DP than I am a director, but to think that no-one else could have DPed Stop/Eject to a good standard with limited time and equipment was somewhat egotistical.
This year, for the first time ever, I’ve handed over the editing of a project to someone else – Miguel Ferros is now working on a cut of Stop/Eject. Although I was initially resistant to the idea, I now feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I eagerly anticipate Miguel’s cut.
Gratifyingly, I’ve recently been hired by a couple of different writer-producers to direct their shorts. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to direct and only direct. (More on these projects on the blog in due course.)
To close with, here’s a simple example of the perils of not collaborating. This week I recorded a line of ADR on my Zoom H1. Coming from a technical background, when faced with a technical task and an artistic task to do simultaneously, the former gets priority unless I make a conscious effort otherwise. So I was focused on the technical quality of the recording, and only noticed on playing back the material at home that I had failed to give the actress an important piece of direction. Had someone else been operating the recorder for me, I would have caught this mistake.
Fortunately the main ADR session is yet to come. At which someone else will be pressing the buttons.
This post has been created and published because the total raised in Stop/Eject‘s post-production crowd-funding campaign has passed the £1,100 mark. I’m going to look at how the money you all contributed in pre-production was spent in order to get Stop/Eject in the can.
Stop/Eject was originally meant to be filmed in autumn 2011 under the auspices of another production company. Prior to the project’s postponement and subsequent resurrection as a crowd-funded movie, Sophie and I spent some money on set dressing (£149.76), costumes (£206.20) and travel (£60). We absorbed these costs personally and they’re not included in the budget.
Moving onto the expenditure, the first thing you have to do with any type of fundraising is deduct the costs involved in that fundraising process – in this case crowdfunder.co.uk’s fee and the production and postage of the rewards/perks for sponsors. These costs represent less than 8% of the budget, which I think is pretty good value.
Under pre-production you can see that more props and costumes were purchased in 2012, in addition to those we’d already bought in 2011. The total costumes outlay across the two years was £407.94, making it one of the largest costs of the production. This was due to the high number of story days in the script (eleven), each of which required a new outfit. A significant chunk of the props budget went on 400 cassette cases for the scene in the Tape Archive, while the construction materials included the wood and antique doors which the alcove set was made from. Auditions were held at Conway Hall in Holborn, London, owned by the very strange but pleasingly cheap South Place Ethical Society.
Travel is the biggest expense under production and indeed for the entire project, totalling £1,049.49 if you include the van costs and the pre-production and 2011 costs, even though some of the local crew waived their mileage and parking expenses. The high travel expenditure was partly due to many key cast and crew members living at least a two hour journey away from where we were filming, but even on more local projects I’ve often found that travel can be the most expensive element (assuming you’re not paying anyone fees). Hiring the van was relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things, and was worth every penny and more. Without it we couldn’t have moved the alcove set or some of the larger props around, and squeezing all the equipment into cars would have been a nightmare.
I was very surprised how little we spent on food and catering. £248.33 fed about ten people for five and a half days. Many of the meals were cooked in advance, frozen and reheated on set or cooked from scratch on set by Katie or Debs, but we bought takeaways for everyone on at least two occasions. That figure also includes supplies like plastic beakers, disposable plates, bowls and cutlery and a thermos flask. We borrowed a fridge and a hotplate and brought our own microwave along.
When drawing up a new budget for Stop/Eject after its initial postponement, accommodation seemed like a killer cost that might prevent the film from ever being made. Research indicated that I could expect to pay around £2,000 to hire a holiday cottage large enough to house everyone for a week. As it turned out, we found Magpie, not only a brilliant location for the shop and many other settings, but also a place where some of us could stay (albeit in less than ideal conditions). The owner asked just for a token amount to cover the utilities costs, and with Sophie’s spare room also put to good use we only had to hire one hotel room for one night.
If you’re wondering where I got the public and employers’ liability insurance from, the answer is Essex Insurance Brokers. They specialise in short-term policies for low-budget filmmakers and you can get a quote and activate a policy in just a few minutes using their web form. If that sounds like a blatant advert, let me counter it by saying they were utterly unhelpful and a bit rude when I tried to get insurance for The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot from them.
Finally, a word on the stuff we didn’t spend money on. None of the cast and crew were paid, which caused lots of stress and hassle in the month leading up to the shoot as several crew and both lead actors pulled out in order to do paying work that clashed. As a result I’ve sworn never to do anything again but simple little one-day shoots unless I can afford to pay people. Feel free to remind me of this if I ever seem to be going astray. We also spent nothing on equipment hire. Most of it (camera, lenses, tripod, dolly, shoulder rig, smoke machine) was mine and the rest of it was borrowed. Thanks to Steve Lawson for loan of the jib, Colin Smith for the Glidecam and additional lights, The Rural Media Company for an additional light and some sound kit, and Ian Preece for the sound recorder.
When all the figures were totted up, I was as shocked as anyone to see we’d come in more than £400 under budget. This meant we were able to set our post-production crowd-funding target at £1,500 rather than the £2,000 we had planned. We’re now less than £400 away from that target, so please help us get there by toddling over to stopejectmovie.com and hitting Donate. And if you’re curious to know how the budget of a indie feature film breaks down, choose the £10 “Line Producer” reward and you’ll get a full and detailed analysis of Soul Searcher’s monetary ins and outs.
In September I had the pleasure of working once again with Lara Greenway – star of Soul Searcher, director of Hostile and The Runner, and producer of Hard Boiled Sweets and Danny Dyer vehicle Deviation. This time she was directing a pilot for a comedy web series called How to be Dead, written by Dave Turner. It was released online for Halloween and here it is:
The pub scene is my favourite thing I’ve lit in a long time, so I thought I’d break down what went into it.
The aim was to separate the lead actors from the background as much as possible. This was accomplished through depth of field (shooting at around f2.0), colour contrast (lighting them warmly and the background coolly), backlight and smoke.
Working from the foreground of the shot backwards, we have a crossed pair of Dedos behind camera, each with a half orange gel and each spotted on one of the leads. Hanging from a pair of connected C-stand arms straddling two of the pub’s wooden roof beams is an 800W Arrilite giving the leads a white backlight.
There’s a fireplace off camera to the left (in the master shot). To give the impression of it being lit, I put a reflector in it – gold side facing out – and aimed a 1K Arrilite at this reflector. My trusty gaffer Col wobbles the reflector during takes to create a flickering effect which is visible on some of the closer extras in the left of the frame.
A third Dedo, positioned near the fireplace, is trained on the skeleton hanging in the background.
Outside in the tiny beer garden is a 2.5K HMI that’s blasting through the patio doors. A blue-gelled 1K Arrilite, indoors but in the far background, adds further “moonlight”. Between them these two lamps are illuminating the copious amounts of smoke we pumped in, giving the whole scene a wonderful volume and depth.
Finally, in the far background on the left, there’s a fourth Dedo hidden in the entrance to the ladies’ loo, throwing a little pool of light on a painting on the wall. I also turned on the pub’s existing sconces to create extra contrast.